Making Data Personal

by | Apr 26, 2021

As someone who prefers words to numbers and is generally disinterested in pie charts, I haven’t always had the most positive relationship with the word “data,” especially as it pertains to education. I associate the term with standardized testing and dry statistics that fail to capture who students really are as learners and human beings. Working at EPIC, however, has changed my relationship to data entirely, because here, it serves a very different purpose, one that is vital to ensuring each unique student is set up for success. 

Like many educators, the EPIC staff spends hours each week recording student data. We log daily behavioral successes and challenges through classdojo, grade work samples, and conduct regular formal and informal assessments throughout each academic unit. 

Where the EPIC magic starts, though, is after these hours of logging, when our whole team collaborates to analyze the data and use it to design individualized, detailed academic and behavioral intervention plans for each of our students. 

If a new EPIC second-grader’s Opinion Writing pre-assessment shows they are working at the level of a typical kindergartener, our teachers won’t respond by lowering expectations and giving that student kindergarten-level work. Instead, we will look closely at that pre-assessment to identify the specific barriers that stand in the way of that student’s success and strategize a plan of action to remove those barriers. Are lagging fine motor skills preventing the student from getting their thoughts onto paper? Our Occupational Therapist can push into the classroom during that student’s writing period to develop those lagging skills as the student completes their writing projects. If the student is struggling with basic sentence structure, their Lead Teacher can differentiate the student’s assignments to target that specific standard and find time to work one-on-one with the student to ensure they achieve mastery. And when a student struggles with low frustration tolerance and self-esteem as a result of their academic struggles, our Licensed Clinical Social Worker can help the student develop strategies for self-regulation as they tackle challenging assignments.  

Similarly, if a fourth-grader scores 100 percent on their multiples and factors pre-assessment, we do not see that as an opportunity to allow the student to cruise through the unit without any opportunities for meaningful learning. Instead, through a carefully designed individualized sequence of study and small group and one-on-one enrichment sessions, our teachers will craft occasions for that student to complete related work far above their grade-level standards. 

Our behavioral data serves the same purpose. Each week, our staff stays after hours to hold student case conferences, ensuring that every student’s documents are updated each month. During these conferences, we examine the students’ daily behavioral data to create and revise highly detailed and individualized intervention plans. If a student who called out excessively in January had far fewer call-outs logged in February, we can assume our “planned ignore” strategy is working and ensure every staff member is using this strategy consistently. If the student doesn’t seem to be making progress in this area, our staff can collaboratively brainstorm ways to change course. We can also examine data very closely, noticing that while a student has made overall progress in ignoring distractions, they’re still struggling with this skill on Mondays, and make sure the appropriate structures are in place to lend extra support to this student as they transition from the weekend. 

These days, it doesn’t take much to get me excited about bar graphs and line graphs and, yes, even pie charts. These slices and bars demonstrate, so clearly, the enormous strides our students are making each and every day, as well as the areas in which we can continue to foster growth. They provide our team with the data-driven information we need to create a personalized, successful learning experience for every unique student.


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